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Dr. Wally
Dr. Wally, Bird Veterinarian
Category: Bird Veterinary
Satisfied Customers: 673
Experience:  Chicken Owner and Veterinarian
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15 chickens seem healthy except for loss of head and neck feathers.

Resolved Question:

15 chickens seem healthy except for loss of head and neck feathers. Now, 2 dead in one week. All seem to have some degree of feather loss. Cascade mountains, so cooped up extensively this winter due to heavy snow...
Submitted: 6 years ago.
Category: Bird Veterinary
Expert:  Dr. Wally replied 6 years ago.

I'm sorry you are having trouble with your chickens.

Can you tell me, how large is your coop?

Are they locked up every day, or are they getting out at all?

Do you have a rooster, or just hens?

Is there any loss of feathers on their backs or just their heads/necks?


Did you happen to open up the dead birds?

Customer: replied 6 years ago.
coop is 12 x 12, has 15 nest boxes, thick layer of straw, 3 perches made from tree limbs with some bark, cleaned periodically. Heated water bucket. Water is changed every day, but bucket is not scrubbed. All hens, no rooster. Mainly head and neck loss, but some have loss on their butts. Rhode Islands are dying and are all about a year old. Americaunas have a little feather loss and they are about 9 month olds. All hens, no roosters. One Rhodey was sick this summer, couldn't walk, rolled her eyes, nursed her back to health, but still trouble walking and seem to be foot not leg problem, and is isolated from other hens so they can't cannibalize her. She is laying eggs now. Hens have been cooped most of the winter except for Jan/Feb when our snow was gone. We have 4 feet of snow on the ground now and they won't go out. They have two infrared heat lamps and an incandescent bulb.
Expert:  Dr. Wally replied 6 years ago.

Okay, that helps. If you haven't noticed any "snick" or sneezing in your girls, I would encourage you to spend some time standing still for long enough in the coop, as this is a symptom that is easily missed and can indicate air sacculitis (very common in cold weather when hens are cooped up).


I would also recommend that you ask your local extension agent where to bring the dead birds for post-mortem necropsy so they can determine what caused the death (keep them cold until you get them there). This is a free service in most areas because of health concerns.


With no symptoms other than feather loss, which may be due to pecking at each other, I cannot tell you exactly what is going on. Most likely the scratches they are inflicting are getting infected and causing a dermatitis. This can cause mortality in the flock.


There aren't any diseases in chickens which cause feather loss of the head and death(in turkeys there are, but that's different).


My suggestion is to do two things: provide antibiotics (unless you are strictly organic) such as tetracycline (available at Tractor Supply Co), and enrich their environment to keep them from picking on each other. Give them extra green leafy veggies to pick at and eat, try spreading meal worms on the floor so they have to peck and scratch to eat them. Give them paper towel rolls to rip apart and other things they might like to tear. Keep them busy and they will peck less at eachother.


Also, adjust your lighting so that it is lower. 40 watts is enough to keep them laying, but low enough that they wont peck as much.


Hope that helps.

Customer: replied 6 years ago.
They do not peck at each other. I have watched them extensively by sitting quietly in the coop. There is no blood from pecking either. They get quite a lot of fresh greens as I work at a resort and take the leftovers. Will reduce lighting. No Tractor Supply here in the mountains and will probably have more dead chickens by the time I order on line. No sneezing or couching.
Expert:  Dr. Wally replied 6 years ago.

Where do you get your feed? The feed stores almost all sell the packets of tetracycline. Try there or any farm supply store.


What type of feed are you giving? What is the protein level? Any chance the feed has gotten wet?


I'm not as concerned about giving greens for the nutritional value, but to keep the girls busy. If they are not pecking at each other, I'm not sure I have the right answer for you. Other than scratching and dermatitis, feather loss can be nutritional or just molting (too young and wrong season).

Customer: replied 6 years ago.
commercial packaged feed bought a feed store in town. It is layer crumble supplement with a small amount of layer scratch. Also, oyster shell for the eggs. Same I have used always, so I don't think that is it. Will check for the tetracycline. Tractor only sells antibiotics in their stores, not on line.
Expert:  Dr. Wally replied 6 years ago.

One more thing to check...look carefully for mites. I'm guessing you are on top of that, but just thought I would mention that.


Try the antibiotic. Sometimes these cases of sudden death are respiratory related. If any other symptoms arise, please be sure to get back into contact.

Customer: replied 6 years ago.

The feed is Nutrena Layer Crumble. 16.0 crude protein. I thought of mites. Would I be able to see them? I've looked, but can't see any. Claire

Expert:  Dr. Wally replied 6 years ago.

If you look long enough, you'll see little specks moving on the skin. You'll have to part the feathers. They may even crawl up on your fingers, but don't worry, they wont stay on you.

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